Theme: Porsche – Don’t say it: “To loud Irena”.

Porsche is a deeply irritating company for the casual on-looker.

1988 Porsche 944 S2: source

Porsche, eh. All I wanted to do was to present a small treatise on the Porsche 944. You know the score: a bit of technical background, some chronology and then a respectful look at the aesthetic elements. But Porsche don’t let outsiders in so easily. Their clubs must be full of people who crouch ready to pounce on those who can’t display the in-depth knowledge of the true connoisseur. Oh, surely you know why the 924 was made in Bremen and not Osnabruck, Ray…

To be able to talk 944 (1982-1991) you need to learn 924 (1976-1988) and to know that you must understand 914 (1969-1976). Of these, only the 914 has its own body shell (and wasn’t called, say, 918 or 942 or something) and even this simple fact is confounded by the way it was sold as a VW-Porsche 914. Finally we get to the 912 – which is just another 911, an entry-level model of that old can. Don’t mention the 356, please – I fear we will end up reaching back to the geology of the region where Porsche is made.

Brilliant – 1969 Porsche 914

Turning that around:  you will need to know that the 911 begat a cheaper version in 1965, equipped with 1.6 litre Porsche engines and, erk, 2.0 litre VW engines. That’s the 912 which looks like a 911 to you and me. Porsche then decided to market a separate line of cars with a distinct body shell: that’s the 914 (above), notable for its idiosyncratic form which I rather like. It’s nearly but not quite wrong. It didn’t get a really warm reception (in part because it wore its VW origins too obviously but it’s the Porsche I could imagine owning).

Now, interestingly, Porsche ran from rear-engines (as in behind the driver) and went front-engine for the 924. Designer Harm Lagaay wrapped the conventionally arranged powertrain in neat and conventional clothes for the 1976 924. It had pop-up lights as were the vogue. A vogueish-hatchback adorned the rear, meaning the 924 managed a good deal more practicality than the 914 and the evergreen 911 which was refusing to bloody die.

1988 Porsche 944 interior: source

The 924 received two engines: a base-model 2.0 and a slightly meatier 2.5 litre engine; both sat ahead of the driver and power went to the back. In one fell swoop Porsche had solved all the problems of the 911 including its absurd asking price. While the car was criticised for its supposed lack of performance, it sold well while trying not to stand on the toes of the 911.

Finally we get to the subject of our article…

The 944 appeared in 1982 as a sort-of new model: more refined, faster and with small external modifications. It was a sorted-out or messed up 924, depending on your view of engineering purity. The 944 was really nothing that would deserve a new model name in other firms. Look what Ford did to the Sierra in 1987 and it was still a Sierra. The 944 interior was the same as the 924 even if the drag coefficient was worse.

Now here’s a list of shibboleths, the improvements for the 1985 car: “In mid-1985, the 944 underwent its first significant changes. These included : a new dash and door panels, embedded radio antenna, upgraded alternator (from 90 amp to 115 amp), increased oil sump capacity, new front and rear cast alloy control arms and semi-trailing arms, larger fuel tank, optional heated and powered seats, Porsche HiFi sound system, and revisions in the mounting of the transaxle to reduce noise and vibration. The “cookie cutter” style wheels used in the early 944s were upgraded to new “phone dial” style wheels (Fuchs wheels remained an option). 1985 model year cars incorporating these changes are sometimes referred to as “1985B”, “85.5” or “1985½” cars.” (Wikipedia). 

The 944 went on to sell an eventual 160,000 examples, adding to the 150,000 of its predecessor.

In 1988 Porsche carried on their tradition of polishing their cars’ specification and declaring a new model: the 944 S2 gained a 3.0 litre four-cylinder engine, which must be something of a record. Diligent readers will remember that 2.5 litres is usually the displacement volume where other approaches are deployed i.e more cylinders or turbos. I found just five cars with oversized l4 engines, and two of them are Porsches.   Another is the GM Vortec of 1968 but its not for cars.

What were Porsche trying to do with the 3.0 litres l4? It could claim impressive torque and good low to mid-level acceleration. To cope with the harshness of the engine, Porsche installed huge vibration dampers, counter-rotating balance shafts. Compared to the 2.5 l4 the 3.0 had an extra 21 bhp but 22% extra torque. In a sense the 944S2 was a small car with an almost American feel: lots of lazy power for relaxed performance but allied to an admittedly agile chassis. So why didn’t they do all that with a six? Because they could, I expect.

If you look at Porsche today you can still see them doing the same sorts of things: confusing model names, ceaseless development and the remixing of a limited palette. One thing they don’t do so well is to make contemporary designs freed from the legacy of the Porsche 911 which in turn is a shape governed by the underlying geological structure of the Zuffenhausen region. The 924 and 944 designs remain fresh and efficient forms.

It’s worth pointing out that the Porsche 944 interior is still pretty good looking.


Summary courtesy of AutoEvolution: “The S2 variant of the Porsche 944 is the upgraded version of the previous model officially unveiled in 1988 but produced until 1991. The new model comes with a completely different engine, a 3.0-liter with a maximum power of 211 hp and a top speed of 149 mph combined with a 0 to 100 km/h done in 7.1 seconds. The brakes are assured by ventilated discs on both the rear and the front similar to the previous model introduced in 1986. Porsche!”


Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

20 thoughts on “Theme: Porsche – Don’t say it: “To loud Irena”.”

  1. Hmm. Wasn’t the 924 (sorry, back to ancient history) intended to be sold by VW? And wasn’t it basically a front engined rear drive Super Beetle (US designation for the Beetle derivative with strut front suspension and semi-trailing arm rear)?

    1. Yes, I understand that the 924 was to have been a VW range-toppper. However, the oil crisis changed things and I think they went with the Scirroco instead. The “Super Beetle” part is new to me.

    2. Pity the Porsche historian, having as he does to wade through the swamps of Zuffenhausen’s half-baked and abandoned projects, many of which actually entered production. I say this as a buffer against accusations of inaccuracy – there are as many stories and views over the 924’s genesis as there are derivations of it.

      My understanding is that it was a Porsche consultancy project, developed at Zuffenhausen for VW, intended to replace (I’d imagine) the Karmann Ghia, a model which had been a good seller Stateside. There was also the Japanese to consider – especially the Datsun Z cars. It used a number of off-the-shelf VW-group components for cost reasons, so yes – struts up front and it appears the rear-mounted gearbox was derived from a Beetle transmission. The engine was an Audi unit, also used by VW in some of their commercial vehicles. There was also some speculation that Porsche would market a more upmarket version.

      Late in the project’s gestation, VW baulked at the cost and with the fuel crisis biting, elected not to proceed. Porsche are said to have offered VW the latterday equivalent of £10m for the entire programme and completed the car we know as the 924, with the express aim of taking it further upmarket in due course. Which of course they did, if rather belatedly – the 924 itself only receiving the 2.5 Porsche unit in 1985 I believe. (There was the 924 Turbo, but that was not in production for long).

      Scottish stylist, Dawson Sellar, then working at Zuffenhausen, worked up an exterior proposal for the 924, which in retrospect was far more in keeping with the family look than Harm Lagaay’s design – chosen by Ferry Porsche in an executive decision he may have come to regret as the 911 staged one of the most astounding comebacks in automotive history.

    3. Never mind the engine – those door handles are clearly from the VAG parts bin. Maybe the ashtray too?

    4. The ashtray is the sliding cover type, done in neat, sober black plastic. That’d be a good one for the ashtray series.
      The lighter is not positioned
      very well, is it? There is so
      much wasted space on the centre
      console (the ashtray cover is
      a space wasting design) too.

    5. I have heard of the Super Beetle, but then I have always lusted after a beach buggy and the two are somewhat entwined. Incidentally, quite a few buggies found themselves with Porsche engines. Or were they VW engines? *Windmills of My Mind starts playing in the background*

  2. Richard,

    The 3.0 litre 4-cylinder engine seemed extraordinary then and even more so now, when large cars such as the Insignia are offered with 1.5 litre engines.

    I am learning that it was a very typical Porsche project – start with something sub-optimal, and then refine it until you end up with a 240ps powerplant.

    Are you planning to do a 968 article? I like that car very much.

    1. Having looked that one up I see it’s a 924 or 944 with an approximation of the 911 front-end grafted on. It had the 3.0 l4 engine in two versions and a short sales life. I didn’t realise Porsche did quite so much bodging.

    2. The front end owes more to 928 than to 911. And the 968 seems to be the pick of the 4-pot bunch.

    3. I guess the 968 is the final, refined version of this here. I like the rear lights very much, they don’t look as utilitarian as the 924/944 units.

    4. The 968 was one fine facelift, that’s for certain. Build quality is said to be superb, too.

    5. Having looked at the 968 again I see round lamps and wings which rise above the bonnet – 911ish, I feel.
      It’s hard not to see it as a face-lift of a face-lift.

    6. That’s one way of looking at it I suppose. Can we call it half-and-half?
      But I too think it’s quite a successful facelift, especially as it was done on a tight budget, allegedly.

  3. The origin of Porsche’s slant 4 is quite simple, iirc, it’s half a 928 engine.

    1. Are you sure about that? It seems it’s an Audi unit originally.

    2. Laurent: you’re slightly confused here I think – (albeit, given that it’s Porsche we’re discussing, that’s hardly unusual). The original 2 litre 924 engine was a VW/Audi unit. The 2.5 litre inclined four fitted to the 944 and 968 (later enlarged to 3 litres) as well as in later editions of the 924 is Porsche’s own unit, which as Roberto says, was derived from the Zuffenhausen V8 as fitted to the 928 series.

  4. One afterthought to the 944-to-986 transition. While I have to say that the front is somewhat ambiguous in following the 911 or the 928, the rear clearly references the 928 in my eyes. Look at the light clusters incorporated in a large piece of combined bumper and rear panel.

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